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Nicholas Sparks movies inhabit their own universe. It's a place where love is a mystical force, characters are painted with the broadest brush strokes possible, and tragedy is inevitably lurking around the corner.

It's a place where romance reigns supreme, if your idea of romance was frozen in time at age 11, and it's a place where cheesiness rules, especially if you like your cheese covered in goop with a side order of sap.

"The Best of Me" is Sparks through-and-through, which is to say it hits all of these parameters. It plays like a Greatest Hits for the author: It's got the time-shifting element of "The Notebook," the crazy turns of "Safe Haven," and it's shot through the gauzy filter of all of his movies.

James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan are Dawson and Amanda, ex-lovers brought back together after the death of Dawson's father figure, Tuck (Gerald McRaney). We flashback to their early years (Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato play their younger selves) and watch their love affair blossom in the face of their differences: Her family is rich, his family is made up of mentally and physically abusive drug-runners. That old story.

Time rips them apart, and the film centers on whether these two actually belong together, because of love. (Amanda is married with children, but her husband is a drinker, so it's a wash.) The Louisiana setting leads to lots of shots of gardens and big, beautiful trees, which make the film unfold like a Lifetime movie with especially high production values.

As a drama, it fails, but the camp value is high, making it more fun than your average would-be weeper. It's silly, but at least it's not a slog.

agraham@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/grahamorama

'The Best of Me'

GRADE: C-

Rated PG-13 for sexuality, violence, some drug content and brief strong language

Running time: 118 minutes

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